Darkest Hour earns mercy points for its approach to intelligent life from elsewhere in the universe, an electrical, nearly invisible species feeding on our resources. Note that humans are also a resource. Extra credit is thus earned for not treating the main cast as invincible. Even they can succumb to the dust-creating suction sourced from these electro-baddies.
The rather ambiguous extraterrestrials make up for the stock cast of characters, including the oppressive jerk, helpless females, and strong, comedic hero. It wouldn’t be Hollywood without them. They wander around Russia, creeping to avoid sight lines, and learning of the hostile invasion. It’s all expository for the sake of the audience.
After five days locked in the back room of a dance club -and still with remarkably well groomed hair- the intrepid crew ventures out, providing the necessary Russian sight seeing and a handful of blasé CG effects to spruce up the monotony. Despite the core interest in the creatures themselves, Darkest Hour is a meandering invasion flop, more concerned with venturing the cast from one location to the next where they just happen to bump into additional survivors. Or, as it usually goes, more eventual victims.
It’s all leading to a contained finale, with a mildly aggressive action sequence involving an out of control bus. Budgetary constraints hamper the scale, keeping the conflict marginalized. Despite worldwide strife, aliens keep to themselves, rarely working in numbers. Maybe they’re just cocky?
A handful of impressive visuals desert Moscow streets, lining it with damaged cars, dust from sucked up humans, and a light wind. It’s all reminiscent of 28 Days Later, but without the emotional toll. Here, it’s about wanting the characters to perish to get it over with, or praying for a zombie invasion to lighten things up beyond a sparking LED or light bulb.
Pulled into service for this sci-fi clunker are dual Sony HD cams, the duo presenting an image with zest. While it falters in regards to the richest fine detail, clarity in the image is outstanding. There’s a sense of life and naturalness to the piece that feels completely transparent. Aside from the dimmed color timing, little separates Darkest Hour from the set to the finished product.
That’s not to say it’s perfect, as the flick suffers from errant aliasing in spots, enough to be a bit of a bother when it crops up. Certain wide shots are given a veneer of being filtered, murky and lacking the precision found elsewhere. It’s important to note that despite a lack of definitive facial detail, the glossy look that can hamper many digitally captured features isn’t evident.
Darkest Hour bucks the trend of dwindling black levels with regards to digital, offering exquisite skyline shots and dim alleyways filled with the depth they deserve. Kind to shadow detail, Summit’s Blu-ray presentation never appears murky or lacking finesse, even during those shots with complex effects work. Since the cover of night is critical to the narrative, visual success hinges on the darkness.
Visually, the movie works. That’s the best that can be said about it. Even with limited resources, a pittance compared to most invasion pics, Darkest Hour finds a way to work around limitations. When needed, angles can be employed to scale the images, which the disc (and thus this transparent AVC encode) can spit out effortlessly.
And with the 3D, not so much. This could be one of the worst 3D presentations of a feature film to date. At times, you will need to check your glasses to ensure they are still working. Utterly lifeless – even during dramatic effect shots that show destruction – the depth is as a dead as the city. The camera work is made for specialized low angles, and still this one falls flat. Darkest Hour likes to throw things at the screen, but does so with such haste, there is no time to actually appreciate the thrill. The best at least add a smidgen of slow motion to sell the moment.
The only thing the 3D has going for it are the aliens, which on occasion, do crackle towards the frame effectively. Their merely beams of light poking around so it would be hard to screw up. Their arrival in the city skyline is sold rather impressively too, and marks a 10-second highlight out of a 90-minute movie.
Of all the things that could have been done, the most atmospheric element turns out to be the haunting opening credits. It’s spooky, with wavering alien calls that split the directionals wide and scatter into the surrounds. It sets an audio stage for the alien’s mostly audible existence.
Elements produce a little of everything, from a plane panning overhead immediately post-credits to brutal (some might say obnoxious) bass blaring from a club interior. It’s beefier than gunfire which will come later.
Electrified creatures wander, the sound mix capturing their motion during tense stand-offs. They pan and pop lights as they pass, aurally giving away their position. When killed, they shatter. Pieces splatter about in an effective display of exploding E.T. parts. Fun stuff.
Director Chris Gorak delves into the world of feature commentaries, certainly the richest of the bonus pieces offered up here. Survivors is a short story that takes place during the invasion, and at 10-minutes, is enough to get your attention. Visualizing an Invasion details the technical aspects of the movie, followed with a handful of deleted/extended scenes.